let kids watch beauty and the beast

Share the Buzz, A free lesson guide about honeybees

Why just teach your children about honeybees when you could do something together to help save them? This lesson goes beyond “just” planting another pollinator garden by focusing on planting flowers which bloom when bees need them most, providing the maximum benefit for limited space.

free homeschool lessons about honeybees

Children learn best by doing. And by having someone to inspire their curiosity, encourage them to ask questions and help them find the answers. In this lesson guide, you won’t be creating a lapbook. I don’t have any notebooking pages for you. Well, I’ll include some links to some at the end, just in case you feel the need to have something for their folders. But really, my suggestion for teaching children about honeybees is to plan a pollinator garden together, tend it and talk about who comes to visit your flowers. Talk to your children as you work. Share your knowledge. Listen to their questions and research the honeybee and other native pollinators together.

Not many people outside the beekeeping world know this, but March is the most difficult month for honeybees. They spend winter semi-dormant in their cluster in the hive. They aren’t raising brood. They aren’t collecting nectar. They aren’t making honey. The colony’s population is at its lowest by the end of February, but to be ready for the clover bloom in June, honeybees start waking up and raising brood by early March. A good queen can lay almost her own bodyweight in eggs Every. Single. Day. The hive is preparing for the clover bloom, but the  presence of early spring flowers can make or break a hive coming out of winter low on stores and high on demand.

Importance of early blooming flowers for honeybee survival-min

This is a long post with a LOT of information. It contains just about everything you need to get started on your garden and teach your children “here a little, there a little” as you work and watch your garden develop. There is a link at the top of the post to turn it into a pdf which you can then print to refer to offline.

Teaching your children about honeybees

They will learn more and learn it more deeply when the information comes in small snippets, shared while their attention is focused and their minds are already working out what they are observing. You don’t need a lesson plan, a notebook or a lapbook. All you need is a garden you planted together, a sketch book and small, buzzing visitors to talk and wonder about.

Before you get started, think about the lessons you want your child to learn. Use this to guide your conversations with your children as you plan your garden and observe the insects that come to visit.

Look for opportunites to share the information in conversation while you are watching the bees in your garden. Dissect a flower together and look at its parts. Talk about how all the workers you see are female. Drones (males) are raised for a specific job and all they ever do is hang around eating honey and waiting for a chance to mate with a queen. Look for the pollen basket on the hind legs of a honeybee and talk about what that does. Talk about how the honeybee gets back to the hive and how she tells her colony where she found a food source. These conversations do not need to take place during a two week formal study or even in one growing season.

Have questions? Feel free to drop me a note here, via my contact page or on my facebook page. I am not a commercial beekeeper, but I have had hives for several years. I love to talk about this life we have out here, whether it is related to our hobby farm or our homeschooling.

Planning a Spring Garden

As you plan your garden, talk about the importance of habitat to all living things. Honeybees need food, water and a safe place to raise their young just like any other living thing. As humans turn wild spaces into lawns, businesses and farms, it gets harder and harder for pollinators to find the variety of nectar and pollen producing plants they need to survive. If you have older children, you could introduce the concept of a “monoculture.” I live in rural Nebraska and we have acres upon acres of farmland planted in corn and beans. Bees do collect pollen from these plants, but they have a need for variety in their diet just like we do. Kale may be a “superfood,” but it that’s all we ate, we wouldn’t stay healthy, either.  Also discuss why you are focusing on early blooming plants.

Look together with your children for a spot in your lawn to plant or extend a garden. Ideally, find the equivalent of a three foot by three foot area to plant because bees like clusters of the same kind of flower best. However, even a small container garden can be beneficial and your children can learn the same lessons. Research plants that provide pollen and nectar for honeybees. (Sap is not something bees generally have difficulty finding). Pay special attention to early blooming plants that will give honeybees (and other pollinators) a nectar and pollen source to replenish needed stores.

Crocuses are a wonderful addition to a garden. They produce a good amount of pollen which provides needed protein to a bee’s diet. They bloom early in the year, sometimes while snow is still on the ground. They also fit very easily into existing gardens because they are finished with their bloom before most other plants have begun to come out of their dormancy. If you have room for shrubs, hazelnuts also provide an excellent pollen source early in the year.

Wikipedia has an comprehensive list of North American nectar sources for honeybees which includes an indication of when the bloom period for each plant begins and how significant it is to the honeybee. When planning a garden, you do not have to worry so much about how many pounds per acre of honey each plant would produce, but this chart definitely demonstrates why the clover bloom is so important to the honeybee! This article from The National Gardening Association focuses on more popular spring-blooming garden plants that aren’t necessarily native.

Set aside time to watch them at work when they visit your flowers (or the weeds in your yard!). Talk about the parts of the bee, notice how they bury their head deep within the flower so their proboscis can reach the nectar within. Let them know that all the workers they see are female. Look closely at the hind legs of the bee and see if you can see the pollen baskets where the honeybee stores pollen to take back to the hive. When they are ready to return, these baskets are full and look like yellowish or brownish (depending on the pollen color) bulges on their hind legs.

The bee’s year

While you work the soil and start planting your garden, discuss the importance of bloom times to the life cycle of the hive. Share the information in the infographic above to re-emphasize the importance of early pollen and nectar sources to beehives and begin to look for things that are in bloom in your area. Talk about where the bees are in their yearly cycle:

Winter: The hive slows down. A cluster forms around the honey and bees take turns eating honey and vibrating their wings to generate heat. Overwintering bees live the longest of any bees (besides the queen)

Late winter (Feb/Mar): The build up begins. The queen can lay between 1,000 and 2,500 eggs a day – almost equal to her own body weight!

Late March: The first bees from the build up emerge from the hive. The bees that overwintered begin to die. Large amounts of dead bees may be found at the hive entrance as bees clean their hives.

June: A strong hive will have at least 60,000 bees to be ready to harvest nectar from the clover which should just be beginning to bloom.

Summer: The hive maintains its numbers. Bees literally work themselves to death and will crawl away from the hive with tattered wings. Her average lifespan during the working season is just 40 days.

Fall: A secondary flow of honey begins as the goldenrod and asters come into bloom. The hive starts winding down for winter. Brood prduction slows. The drones are ejected from the hive. A northern hive will need approximately 80 pounds of honey to survive winter. Southern hives need about half that.

For a sweet treat, when the clover comes into bloom, take a moment to show your children just what all the “buzz” is about. Carefully pull a few of the tiny flowers (the flower of a clover is actually made up of many small flowers clustered together) and chew on the ends that were attached to the flower. You should taste a little of the sweet nectar. This is easiest with the large red clover, even though this variety is worthless to honeybees. Their proboscis isn’t long enough to get to that nectar! Bumblebees appreciate them, however!

Dissecting flowers

The garden you planted may or may not begin flowering this spring, depending on what you planted, however you will certainly have the opportunity to collect some early spring flowers. Pick a few flowers and bring them in to dissect. Help your children carefully cut the flower open and remove all of its parts. Some flowers, like crocuses, tulips and daffodils, are easier to teach with, but your children will enjoy taking a closer look at any flowers you can find.

diagram of a flower

 

After you separate the major parts of the flower and discuss what they do, consider sketching them in a journal and labeling the parts. Talk about how pollination works. Honeybees and our native bees collect pollen for their own consumption, but they also help move it from the female parts of flowers to the male parts of flowers, allowing the seeds to form and the flowers they visit to reproduce. This is good for the plant and for the honeybee!

The importance of pollination

Did you know that 50% of the United States’ commercial hives go to California for the almond harvest? Hives come from as far away as Australia to pollinate the almond crop . This creates problems of its own as far as spreading mites and disease to colonies across the country and around the world, but it does attest to the significance of the honeybee in crop production!
Honeybees are responsible for 80% of crop pollination for the plants we eat and their pollination service is estimated to be worth $15 billion a year! Naturalists are not exaggerating when they say no bees means no food!

Why are honeybees so important to pollination? Many insects feed on nectar and pollen, but honeybees practice “flower fidelity.” That means they like to visit the same kind of flower until they’ve exhausted the nectar or pollen supply. Once they start on apple blossoms, for example, they will continue visiting apple blossoms, ignoring all other flowers. This ensures the pollen from one apple tree is carried to another and not lost in trips to dandelions, henbit or whatever else is in bloom at the same time. There are other native pollinators (and some of them are even more effective pollinators), but they do not live in the large colonies that honeybees do and they are not as easy to transport from field to field to pollinate crops.

When the bees begin to visit your flowers, take time to just watch them work. Ask questions and wonder with your children what their day is like. Watch how they dig their faces deep into the flower so their proboscis can reach the nectar. Look closely at the hind legs to see if you can see the pollen baskets. If the bee is close to returning to the hive, you may see large yellowish or brownish balls attached to the hind legs (depending on what kinds of pollen she is collecting). Encourage your children to ask questions and if you don’t know the answers, help them research the answers online or at the library. This is also a good time to discuss the importance of honeybees to our food supply.

For a refresher on the pollination process itself, including diagrams of the parts of a flower, Kids Growing Strong has an excellent article on pollination, written for children.

Remember, each visit by a honeybee is an opportunity to share a little more of the wonder of the honeybee world with your child.

The information I have gathered here focuses on habitat protection and the importance of honeybees to our food supply, but hopefully you will have many opportunities to watch the bees come and go from the flowers in your garden. Each time you stop to watch, consider sharing a little more about the lives of honeybees.

Other topics to consider discussing while beewatching:

Protect honeybee habitat

Rethink your relationship to “weeds” such as dandelions, henbit and even the clover that grows in your lawn. In some communities, you may not have a choice, but learn to appreciate them for the valuable bee food that they are. If you have to remove them, try focusing your weed efforts on controlling them before they bloom. Honeybees aren’t interested in your green lawn or even in the dandelion greens that are beginning to sprout up. What you do with your lawn between now and when the first flowers begin to bloom will not matter that much to your local pollinators.

Once the flowers bloom, try leaving them alone. If you have to control them, try popping the tops off dandelion for some dandelion jelly. At the very least, watch the flowers for bee activity. Bees will work over the average lawn in less than a day (less than an hour!). Some of these weeds will rebloom and draw the bees and butterflies back again, but when you notice that the activity has stopped, work quickly to destroy the weeds (that are a whole lot easier to see with that big yellow target!).

Spray wisely

Beekeepers and sustainability types will tell you not to spray chemicals at all. I’m not going to do that. Sure, I’d like for you to do that, but I know that’s when some people will tune out and go on spraying the way they always have, putting bees and even themselves at increased risk. Even whole states need to improve on this. During the Zika virus scare, indiscriminate spraying killed millions of honebees.  A few simple rules can prevent your lawn from becoming its own honeybee holocaust, making it safer for the insects you want (and generally saving a bit of money, as well).

  1. Read the package directions and follow them closely.
  2.  Control drift. Don’t spray on windy days and spray close to the ground so you are only spraying what you need to spray.
  3. Spray early in the morning and late in the evening when bees aren’t active.
  4. Try spraying only what needs sprayed rather than the whole lawn or garden.
  5. If bees are active in your lawn, try waiting a day or two and spray when they’ve moved on.

And of course, think carefully about whether you need to spray at all!

Share

OK, so really, a few extra nectar producing plants in your garden are not likely to have much of an affect on bee populations in your area. Bees visit approximately 2 million flowers to produce one pound of honey. Appreciate that the next time you see shelves lined with this liquid gold. Your pollinator garden will be most effective at teaching your children to respect habitats and learn about honeybees and other insects sharing our lawns and gardens with us.

But imagine if everyone in your neighborhood gardened with bees in mind. A little extra planning put into our landscaping could mean that we could begin to give bees and other pollinators back some of their habitat. Share this information with friends and neighbors who might be interested in doing what they can to help honeybee populations. You don’t have to dig up your lawn and replace it with clover. You don’t even have to stop controlling weeds. All it takes is a little forethought and a conscientious effort to include plants that honeybees seek out in your landscaping and be mindful of their presence while controlling weeds.

Other resources for teaching children

I know, I know. I’m a teacher, too. Sometimes it just feels good to have them complete an assignment to put in their folder and sometimes you just have to have a lesson plan.

Suggested books:

(Contains affiliate links, mostly so you know what books I am talking about. If you were to purchase anything through these links, a few cents would be thrown my way.)

A Short History of the Honey Bee, by E. Readicker-Henderson. This is a beautifully illustrated book with a lot of good information, especially for older children. I bought it for myself and read it aloud to my children.

The Bee Tree, by Patricia Polacco. One of my favorite children’s authors. Mary Ellen gets bored and grandpa knows just what she needs: a hunt for a bee tree. Mary Ellen learns that the best things in life are the ones you work for.

Lesson plans

A free honeybee lapbook, including a printable game to play with your children

A Round Up of lesson ideas. Definitely go visit a hive if you have the opportunity! Consider calling your local beekeepers’ association to arrange a field trip.

An excellent collection of ideas for nature studies involving honeybees

Most important of all, have fun with your children. Enjoy the garden you plant together and look for opportunities to stimulate their wonder as you share your garden with the honeybee.

let kids watch beauty and the beast

On setting goals and not getting overwhelmed

It’s that time of year again.

setting goals-min

My very favorite time of year to garden. The world outside my window is covered in ice and I’m snuggled up by the fire, looking through seed catalogs and planning the perfect garden.

There are no weeds, no drought, no flooding. No squash bugs, no aphids, no grasshoppers. No cows devouring all the corn just before it ripens. No sheep eating the tops off all the onions. The garden is perfect, laid out in neat rows, producing on schedule.

It’s all so perfect on paper.

But this year is going to be different.

OK, so it was supposed to be different last year. The garden even made it onto my New Year’s Resolution type thing. It was supposed to be different, and I suppose it was. I mean, I got as far as making the cool graphic, didn’t I?

It’s funny, the plans we make. So much like daydreams, with an added touch of hope that this year . . . this year will be the year. This year will be the year that I somehow won’t stumble over all the same obstacles.

I have a lot of plans this year. It’s the first year in a long time that I’ve attempted to tackle much of anything. And I’m plagued by doubts. Can I really do this? Is it too much? What if I fail? Is it too soon? Will failure send me back to that place that used to swallow me every time we met?

The obstacles in my mind are the ones that are the hardest for me to overcome. They are the ones that hold me back from stepping outside my comfort zone, that keep me from challenging what I think I know, that tie me to this comfortable place that plays around with dreams but does very little to realize them.

But I’m taking small steps.

One thing at a time. When I lift my head up enough to see my end goal, I feel overwhelmed. It’s too much . . . I can’t do this . . . the same thoughts that took hold after my son died.

But I don’t have to do all of that. Not yet.  Because this year I applied a little wisdom to my increasing energy. I took my biggest goals and broke them down into very small steps. Very small steps that all should lead forward.

Right now, all I have to do is what’s next.

Do what’s next and have faith that I’ll be ready for the next step when the time comes.

let kids watch beauty and the beast

My New Year’s Resolution Type Thing

Well, I wouldn’t call it a resolution, exactly. I’ve never been very good at those. It’s like an annual Set-Yourself-Up-For-Failure tradition that I just can’t get into. I could choose a word or a theme or whatever the trend is now, but as cool as they all sound, they all just boil down to one thing: me trying really hard not to be me until I slip into enough of my old habits to just be me again.

So this year, I’m choosing a focus. The last several years, my focus has been chosen for me by the unpredictable and demanding nature of grief. It went from just getting through the day, to just “the next thing,” to improving our animal husbandry in between everything else that goes along with homeschooling six children while running a small hobby farm.

My focus this year is going to be on the garden.

It has limped along since we first moved here, suffering from lack of weeding and lack of fertilizing and lack of any effective means of fighting the annual plague of the squash bug. Each year we make headway. We get a little more produce, but continue to be frustrated with how much more we could get if we had more time and resources to build the soil, tend the crops and keep up with the weeding.

And so far, my Don’t-Call-It-A-Resolution-But-A-Focus thing is going really well. I circled all the seeds I wanted in a seed catalog, made a plan for the garden and put in an order. I even made a colorful little garden map on the computer because then it is really official.

garden layout

OK, so “up” is actually west on this little map, but it doesn’t really matter. The squares on the bottom represent the 4′ X 4′ raised beds we’re going to make this winter and fill with spent hay, straw, compost, manure and topsoil. I actually have enough room for nine if I leave two feet in between them, but nine didn’t look so tidy on my diagram and diagrams are all about the looks. The kids are each going to grow the salad veggies they like best in their boxes and I’m going to grow peppers in the rest.

In June, we’re supposed to be getting 40 broilers. Now, I don’t really have a good place to put 40 broilers. That’s a lot of chickens and they do a fair amount of damage to pasture if they can’t roam. They do a fair amount of damage to pasture if they can roam because they’re so big and lazy, they don’t generally roam even when they can. But that, combined with this lady, gave me the idea to just put their pen in one section of the garden. They can eat and drink and scratch and poo to their hearts’ content, occasionally catching a bug and devouring every green thing that dares pop up in the pen for the nine weeks we have them. They’ll leave it lightly tilled and heavily fertilized when they move to the freezer and I can follow them with a cover crop.

The next year, everything will move up (west) one section so the squash (the heaviest feeder) will always follow the chickens. In seven years, the entire garden will have benefited from having the fertilizing devotion of chickens for an entire growing season. And without even setting out to do so, that little section will get the seventh year rest mentioned in Leviticus.

OK, so I think that actually says to leave your entire land to rest, but we’re not exactly Torah observant here at Roscommon Acres.

The rest of the garden shall continue to receive the benefit of being cleaned up by the livestock at the end of the season and being covered with a layer of straw to be tilled in each spring. But I’m hoping to see measurable improvements to the soil fertility with the addition of chickens to our crop rotation.

The other part of my plan is the hard part. Weeding. Other than just simply to do it, my big plan this year is to space the garden sections so the tiller can pass between the rows. This may seem like a no-brainer, but . . . well . . . you may be dealing with people who aren’t exactly brainless, but do lack significant experience.

  • We tried a no-till method that the weeds really loved. They’ve been begging to go back to that.
  • We had it spaced for a tiller, but it broke down and the newer, hardier one that would actually sort of break through our hard clay in the summer was too wide for the rows we set.
  • Then we planned to make chicken runs in between the rows so they’d do a lot of the weeding except that we never made the runs and the space we left was too narrow for the tiller.

So this year, I’m just going to till. Till, till and more till. Also, I’m getting all bush varieties of plants so the dumb things stay in their sections and don’t overtake the paths. Because in theory, a big ol’ pumpkin plant can spread out every which way, shading out the weeds and taking care of itself. But in reality, it spreads out every which way, making it impossible to pass through and allowing all manner of weeds to spring up within the protection of its prickly fortress.

As far as the squash bugs . . . ahem. I really don’t know. Last year, my solution was to skip all things curcubit, but I miss them. I’m hoping that lessened their numbers, but I think my solution may include the judicial use of sevin dust. I’ve read that you can start a squash plant indoors and set it out in a pot and wait for them to attack. Then you smother it with sevin dust, wait and do it again. Then you can destroy the bait and plant your crop. It doesn’t sound that promising, but I might give it a try. Who knows? Without the pumpkin leaf forest, maybe picking off the eggs won’t be such an impossible task since I’ll only have bush varieties anyway.

So there we go. I drew up a plan and put it in writing. That makes me like ten times more likely to succeed, right?

let kids watch beauty and the beast

Round about the farm

So this is a bit of a hobby farm. In that we have a lot of animals and plants most people would consider crops, even if they don’t produce anything. These are a few of the main characters. You can tell because we took enough pictures of them that a few of them actually turned out!

This is Candy, our Dexter cow, with a beautiful little heifer calf at her side.

Dexter calf

This is Scout. At 15 and a half hands, he’s a big boy. Mouse’s pride and joy. And the horse I wish I wanted to ride? I was looking for something in the neighborhood of 14 hands and older. Maybe a retired trail horse. I thought that sounded like a good first “real” horse for my daughter, but this boy had been through quite a bit of training and was almost the perfect horse, even if he was only 8 when we got him and quite a bit taller than I had in mind.

horseback riding

My saskatoons. I have no idea why I was so excited to get these from the Nemaha Resource District. We planted a whole hedge of berries I had never tried before. Good thing they were delicious!

saskatoon

One of my honeybees. Drinking from the aquaponics tank. One of the many benefits of aquaponics: no more dead bees floating in livestock waterers!

honeybee

And finally, evidence that we take compassion even on garden pests. Maybe it has something to do with how beautiful the butterflies are. Or that we homeschool. But rather than disposing of these devourers of dill, we took cuttings, brought them inside and named them Bob and Crystal. Unfortunately, they escaped rather than building a chrysallis like a good caterpillar under observation.

swallowtail caterpillar

Well, out of close to 200 pictures, that’s all that seemed worth sharing. And why I don’t share pictures all that often. It’s just too much work!

let kids watch beauty and the beast

On saving frostbitten potatoes. And hope after loss.

So I finally got to taking some pictures of my property. Nice pictures showing cute little calves.

Dexter calf

The goslings our mama goose hatched out.

Pilgrim goslings

And the sweet little bottle baby Faithfull adopted.

babydoll lamb

I had planned a post on the excitement of spring. The hope found in new life. And the feeling of finally seeing the rewards of years of working at this with little to show for it other than “experience.” And more things that don’t quite work.

But then a late frost hit before I even got to decide which pictures to use for the post I never wrote. And for awhile, I felt like I was right back in that onion patch I planted the spring after Tiggy died.

frostbitten potatoes

What is the point of trying again and again and again when the only option is failure? It’s too much. It’s too hard. I don’t know how to do this.

But I also don’t know quite how to give up.

So I bought the rest of the heirloom tomatoes available at a local farm and filled out my selection with a variety of hybrids that looked interesting. I bought twice as many peppers as I had before. I took the rest of their onions even though my onion patch was unphased by the frost.

And then my garden had a little surprise for me. Four jalapenos and three tomatoes had survived. Under all the dead leaves was a lot of healthy green coming up in the potato patch. My garden wasn’t quite as dead as it looked.

I read that potato plants can frequently survive a freeze so long as there is healthy growth underneath, so I set to pruning back the dead leaves. And with the dead pruned away, there was room for life to stretch toward the sun.

saving frostbitten potatoes

And in the time it took me to prune all 280 square feet of potatoes, six of my “dead” tomato plants sent up new shoots.

Sometimes, the challenges of life knock us back. They kill our dreams, strangle our hopes and tear down our growth. But when our roots are healthy, life continues in the shadows, waiting for the chaff to be pruned away so it can again stretch toward the light.

Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord.

~Psalm 31:24